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Apathetic Privilege

I’m a sophomore at Williams College. Despite the fact that our campus was shut down in the middle of March, I am still living on campus right now. I had to stay here because my parents live in Wuhan, China.

I actually visited them over winter break around the end of December to the beginning of January. During this time, coronavirus cases were beginning to spread in the city, but the virus wasn’t getting picked up by the media, and the government wasn’t focusing on it. It only really started picking up in the news in mid to late January. I didn’t think that the coronavirus was going to be a big deal. I was really surprised to even see Wuhan on the news, because a lot of people don’t know the city at all. In the past, it was always really difficult just trying to explain where my parents were living in China to other people. Most people only know the major cities of China, like Beijing or Shanghai.

When China began its shutdown of the city, my parents were stuck inside. They were telling me all about it and they were pretty depressed. Even so, I don’t think it really hit me at that point, so I wasn’t doing a very good job reaching out to them and asking them how they were doing. I wasn’t prioritizing contacting them— I didn’t contact them for a week. I was busy with my school things, I guess.

It got really serious when the U.S. embassy started evacuating their own citizens from the city. My parents are U.S. citizens as well, so they were taken on a cargo airplane to San Diego in early February and they were quarantined at a military base for around two weeks.

We used to live in Maryland, and we still have a lot of friends there. The church we used to go to also happened to have a guest house, so after the two weeks at the military base passed, my parents decided to stay in Maryland for another two weeks. I wanted to visit them or I wanted them to visit me, because at this point, I was really worried for them. I wanted to see how they were doing. They eventually flew me out for the weekend around the end of February.

My parents are actually in Taiwan right now. They weren’t planning to stay in the U.S. for long, and they wanted to check up on my sister, who goes to a boarding school in Taiwan. It’s really complicated— I guess they didn’t really have to come to America in the first place; but America was the only place that the U.S. embassy was bringing their citizens to. It was basically their only option out. At the time, there was no transportation allowed in and out of Wuhan, except for action plans being carried out by foreign governments. Everything else was completely shut down.

When my parents were still in China, and even when they were being quarantined in San Diego, I was worried about them, but otherwise, life for me was still going on as per usual. I didn't entertain the thought that anything could happen here in the United States. It was only in mid-March, when the president of Williams College announced that our campus was going to be shut down, that I was really shocked. I remember calling my parents, and because it was late at night where my parents were, only my dad was awake. As I told him what was happening to me, he didn’t even seem to be concerned. He was like, “Oh, okay. You can stay on campus, I’ll tell your mom tomorrow and goodnight.” That’s when I realized that, wow, my parents went through so much— way more than just one campus shutdown— so obviously, this wasn’t even a surprise for them.

Looking back, I initially had a lot of indifference and apathy towards what was going on in the world. I didn’t even care about the city that I visited, the city that my parents lived in. I’m realizing that indifference and apathy stem from privilege. If something’s not happening to you at the moment, you don’t have to care about it— being able to think this way is a huge privilege. The coronavirus has really revealed to me how there are so many different sufferings happening around the world that I am apathetic towards, especially if I’m isolated on campus. This virus has really made me want to be more concerned about what’s happening around me.


Written by: Natasha Leong

Rebecca wrote an article called "Lamenting my privilege in COVID-19: Thoughts of a student from Wuhan" which was published in The Williams Telos and The Williams Record. Click here to read it!

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